Are you a writing hack?

On a bad day, writing can seem like self-torture.  

It’s damned hard, takes so long and when you’re done… Actually you’re never really done because there’s always someone with an opinion about how you could do it better. The self-torture comes in when we listen to that someone – to all those someones – and we judge ourselves based on their opinions.

I really enjoy blog posts by Naomi Dunford at IttyBiz – she’s warm, witty and generous with her knowledge. So, I was amazed when she owned up to a spot of self-torture in a recent blog. She’d been reading Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art when she got socked between the creative gills by this quote:

I learned this from Robert McKee. A hack, he says, is a writer who second-guesses his audience. When the hack sits down to work, he doesn’t ask himself what’s in his own heart. He asks what the market is looking for.

Does considering your audience make you a hack?

I’ve read Pressfield’s book and I think there’s a subtlety to this passage that gets lost if we take it literally. Which is a shame because then it has the potential to crush us – it seems to be sneering at the creative side of us that helps earn our living.

Being a creative in business is a balancing act between considering our audience and honouring our creative side, where our values reside. We believe in what we offer and we employ our creative abilities to offer it so it speaks to the people who we think can benefit from it. That’s not pandering to an audience – that’s making ourselves interesting and useful to them.

RESPECTING OUR AUDIENCE 

Just as our audience is made up of different people, they as individuals have different needs and wants at different times – and they may not be aware of many of those needs/wants.

As a journalist/producer, I worked for a top rating TV news service in Sydney. When there was a big story, our ratings shot even higher because people trusted us to tell the story well.. Our rival’s policy was to dumb down their writing, believing the audience was time poor and not very bright…. They didn’t win the ratings often.

The audience wasn’t aware of their needs or how we were meeting them. They wanted credible true story telling. Bite sized, simplified to a point, and covering the daily flotsam & jetsam. 

We met our audience in the middle – the news they wanted in the way that satisfied our needs too. Telling the stories we thought they needed to know, in a way that was true to our values of communicating with intelligence. It worked. 

TELLING NOT SELLING 

The conversation between seller and potential buyer has changed massively. Sellers once behaved as parents, telling children what to buy for their own good. Well, those children have grown up and they have the power to choose. Just like children, they can blank us if we don’t serve them well.

There is real value in serving a purpose, such as entertainment, because it can lead to selling something. I’ve unsubscribed from most email services because they make a flimsy attempt to give value and then spend all their energy trying to sell, complete with the tired old phrases (DOUBLE my sales, SKYROCKET my income – blah, blah, blah).

It’s not black or white. We do not either pander to an audience or stick steadfast to our creative urges. We are capable of far more subtlety than that – thank goodness, because our audience benefits.

So are we hacks – or thoughtful hosts who invite people to our place and consider their needs when they arrive?

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